Three Republican senators from the Tea Party Caucus — Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah — joined a unanimous block of Democrats to kill a House budget plan with $61 billion in cuts. Then, just moments later, 11 Senate Democrats helped block their own leadership’s proposal.
In what is largely being seen as a symbolic act, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held two votes Wednesday night to test the waters on the parties’ competing proposals to fund the government through the fiscal year. House Republicans voted last month to cut $61 billion from the budget, and Democrats countered with $6.5 billion in cuts.
Neither party could find a majority in the Senate to join them, let alone the 60 votes needed to pass their preferred spending levels.
For Tea Party-backed Republicans, DeMint said they wanted to “send a signal” on spending. He would not comment, however, on whether he would have voted against the GOP proposal if he knew Republican unity would have passed the bill.
“Some of us just wanted to send a signal to say ‘folks, we’re not even close to where we need to be,'” DeMint said after the vote. “We need to take this more urgently, and I’m afraid the whole culture of this place lowers your expectations.”
In statements released after the vote, Lee and Paul both took the time to knock the House GOP proposal, saying it was not serious enough to have any meaningful impact on the nation’s debt.
“If you think of our annual deficit as a football field, the Democrat proposal moves the ball just over half a yard toward the goal line. The Republican proposal moves it just three and a half yards,” Lee said.
“If we were to adopt the president’s approach, we would have $1.65 trillion deficit in one year. If we were to adopt the House approach, we’re going to have a $1.55 trillion deficit in one year,” Paul said.
The 11 Democrats who voted against their own party’s leadership had similar concerns that the proposal didn’t go far enough. (But signaled that the Republicans went too far.) Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson said he “wants to get closer to the $50 billion range in cuts.”
With the battle lines drawn, negotiations between the House, Senate and White House will probably require more time than the nine days left of government funding allotted by the last stopgap measure. That will mean both parities will have to find yet another short-term agreement on how to fund the government for another two weeks, which Republicans have said they are open to as long as it contains more cuts.
In the meantime, the negotiations with the White House will continue.